Synergies at the Supermarket - Training the Next Generation of Nutrition Leaders

Synergies at the Supermarket - Training the Next Generation of Nutrition Leaders

August 16, 2017
Human Resources

By: Christina Meyer-Jax MS, RDN, Assistant Professor, St. Catherine University

When you were in college, what academically did you wish you had more of? Another chapter to read followed by an exam?  While part of the pedagogical mix, what students often crave is more practical, experiential learning.

As a former retail dietitian, and now a professor of nutrition, the opportunity to bring real-life supermarket training for aspiring dietetics students was made possible for my Nutrition Education and Counseling Spring 2017 course by two important partnerships; Produce for Better Health and the Hy-Vee Supermarket Dietitians in Oakdale, Minnesota.

At St. Catherine University, in St. Paul Minnesota, part of our mission is to educate to lead and influence and to do this in a collaborative environment. We were fortunate to connect with the Oakdale Minnesota Hy-Vee Dietitians Mary Brunner MS, RD, LD and Jena Pape RD, LD who are also focused on community partnerships that benefit health and wellness.  

From the retail perspective Mary and Jena believed that, “Partnering with St. Catherine University was a win-win. At Hy-Vee we had the opportunity to bring in people from the community to learn more about fruits and vegetables from all areas of the store (fresh, frozen, canned, dried, juice). Some of them had never shopped at Hy-Vee before so this meant earning business from new customers.  Many of them were surprised to learn that you can make healthy choices when it comes to fruits & veggies from areas in store beyond the produce section, and had the opportunity to try some unique fruits & veggie options from different areas of the store.”

This collaborative program was made possible from the Produce for Better Health’s (PBH) Store Tour Training Grant. The mission of the grant is to enhance collaboration between supermarkets and university nutrition and dietetic programs. This provided an ideal platform to bring the growing field of retail dietetics to life in a tangible way. 

“We trained the dietetic students right in our store so they could deliver tours personalized to Hy-Vee customers and take on the role of an in-store dietitian.  The students were trained to answer difficult questions and pull foods off the shelf to use as resources when delivering their tours.  This experience left a great impression on our customers and we are looking forward to doing it again next year,” expressed Mary and Jena.

With most Americans not meeting fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations, and a 7% decline in the last 5 years (according to PBH “State of the Plate” report), this presented a great opportunity for the students and the participants to learn more about how the intake of fruits and vegetables leads to positive health outcomes.  

Our spring grant programming served 19 students and 70+ grocery store tour participants.  The outcomes were so worth it! Over 80% of participants indicating on the post-survey that the tours will increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables in the future and they have more confidence in choosing and using produce in their meal planning.

The students in the course said it was their favorite field experience and are now more interested in pursuing retail dietetics as a career specialty. 

As for myself, Mary and Jena we are looking forward to building on success of this partnership. We all know how educating at the point-of-choice makes a huge difference in learning and behavior of the participants. Thanks to the support of Produce for Better Health and Hy-Vee, we were able to train the next generation of nutrition leaders to help make positive dietary changes one tour at a time!